Government Members comments
The Government members wish to make the
following comments about the Report.
While there may be some biological
effects from low levels of RF radiation, Government members consider that, in
contrast to the conclusions drawn at paras 2.104 and 2.140, it would be more
appropriate to conclude from the evidence that the possibility of biological
effects (and thus possibly health effects) argues for a precautionary
Government members are concerned at the Report’s
lengthy criticism of the NHMRC processes and the funding decisions made.
Government members do, however, agree with the conclusion, which was only
grudgingly reached in the Report, that the Committee did not find evidence that
the NHMRC has been deficient or biased in its allocation of the research funds
(see para 3.101).
Government members support the conclusion,
grudgingly arrived at in the Report, that the Committee did not find evidence
of industry bias within the NHMRC (see para 3.80 of the Report).
Government members are opposed to the enormous
increase in funding for research – to $40 million – recommended in the Report.
Government members note that while the Report
reaches the conclusion that the RF standard should be set by a process similar
to that adopted by Standards Australia, this process was unsuccessful in
revising the Standard recently.
Government members also note that the Report has
ruled ARPANSA out of the standards setting process apparently because of the
history of the Nuclear Safety Bureau, its precursor (see para 4.123) and
because there are members with industry interests on the ARPANSA working
group. However, it is not clear to Government members why that should be
considered inappropriate for ARPANSA but acceptable in the Standards Australia
process. Government members support the role of ARPANSA in the standards
Government members support the following
Recommendation 2.4 — testing, labelling and regulating
shielding and hands-free devices
Many of these products are sold
on the basis of claims that they reduce electromagnetic radiation. Consumers
need to be protected against unscrupulous merchants who take advantage of
people’s fears, and especially against those products which, rather than
decreasing emissions, may have the effect of increasing them. In addition,
Government members are concerned that the use of these devices may negate the
compliant status of the product to which the shielding device is attached.
This situation needs to be addressed.
Recommendation 2.6 — development of an industry code of
practice for handling consumer health complaints
Government members consider that
the current situation, where it is unclear where consumers should go with a
health complaint related to mobile phone use, is a cause for concern.
Government members consider that it is important for the telecommunications
industry to be prepared to respond to consumer concerns by having appropriate
procedures in place for dealing with mobile phone related health complaints.
Recommendation 2.7 — the establishment of a centralised
Government members, while
recognising that research is being undertaken to investigate the causes of a
range of symptoms attributed to mobile phone use, nevertheless consider that
the development of a database of reports of adverse health effects from mobile
phones and other sources of radiofrequency radiation would assist researchers
in formulating future research hypotheses, and contribute to public confidence
in measures being adopted to minimise health risks associated with EMR.
Recommendation 2.8 — sponsoring of consensus conferences by
the Commonwealth Government
Government members believe that
the perceived disenfranchisement of some members of the public may be redressed
by enabling their participation in conferences aimed at informing the community
about the current status of research into the effects of electromagnetic
radiation and the implications for human health.
Government members make the following comments
in relation to the remaining recommendations:
Recommendation 2.1 — encouragement of additional research into
extremely low frequencies and TV/radio tower exposure
To the extent that this
recommendation relies on the recent ‘Doll’ report, the issue is one of an association
between magnetic fields and childhood leukaemia, not powerlines per
se. The Committee did not hear much evidence on this issue and, in this light,
the basis for the recommendation could be queried. In addition, the
Committee’s terms of reference specifically relate to telecommunications
applications, and therefore this recommendation falls outside the scope of this
A national survey of domestic
magnetic fields would, however, be useful.
Recommendation 2.2 — precautionary measures for the
placement of powerlines
See comments on Recommendation
2.1. While the association between magnetic fields and childhood leukaemia
needs to be taken seriously, the strength of the evidence and the effect, if
real, may not warrant expensive further precautions at this stage. In
addition, the Committee was informed that the electricity industry already
adopts a prudent avoidance approach in the design and operation of its
electricity generation, transmission and distribution systems.
Furthermore, the Committee’s
terms of reference specifically relate to telecommunications applications and
therefore this recommendation falls outside the scope of this inquiry.
Recommendation 2.3 — that the Commonwealth Government
considers developing material to advise parents and children of the potential
risks associated with mobile phone use
It is debatable whether there is
such a ‘growing body of research’ referred to in this recommendation. The
public should be made aware that mobile phones do emit electromagnetic radiation
and that they should be used prudently. Therefore, the development of
independent material to advise people about what is known about mobile phone
radiation is supported.
Recommendation 2.5 — that the Government review the
Telecommunications (Low-impact Facilities) Determination 1997
The LIF Determination was last
reviewed in 1999 and that an ACIF (Australian Communications Industry Forum)
Code currently being developed provides for greater consultation with community
groups on the siting and operation of telecommunications equipment including
low impact facilities.
Recommendation 2.9 — listing of a study into p53 mice
to encourage future research applications
It is questionable whether the
Committee has the expertise to make a judgment about the value of such a study.
Recommendation 3.1 — collection of $5 per annum for each
mobile phone in use
The Government members believe it
is appropriate that the present levy and funding ($1 million per annum)
Recommendation 3.2 — maintenance of $4 million per annum for
the NHMRC-administered research program, with the balance to be used by the
CSIRO to establish a research program and specialised research unit
See comments on Recommendation
3.1. It should be noted that the CSIRO Division of Telecommunications and
Industrial Physics has an annual budget of $60 million and apparently
spends none of it on RF health research. If the CSIRO sees such research as a
priority, presumably it would have already undertaken such a program.
Recommendation 4.1 — formulation and administration of the
radiofrequency standard by a process similar to that used by Standards
The Parliament has set up ARPANSA
and the Radiation Health Committee to, inter alia, prepare national standards
to protect the health of people against harmful effects of radiation. ARPANSA’s
expertise and international experience in setting standards are considerable.
In addition, the ARPANSA process includes expert independent working groups
involving people from community groups. There is a clear process of public
input going on at present with the draft RF standard. Given ARPANSA’s
resources, experience and statutory backing, it is the Government members’ view
that ARPANSA should be left to get on with the job.
Recommendation 4.2 — that the level of 200 microwatts per
square centimetre in the expired Interim Standard be retained in the Australian
The Standard is based upon known
health effects largely based upon heating effects. The Standard should be set
scientifically on this basis, and if earlier Standards were incorrectly based,
they should not stand simply on the basis of a precautionary approach. A
Standard is ‘black letter law’. Precautionary approaches – that may be
warranted by scientific uncertainty about athermal effects – should apply
outside the Standard.
As part of its formulation of an
Australian Standard, ARPANSA re-examined the basis of the Standard by reviewing
standards throughout the world. It determined, from a scientific point of
view, what would be the most applicable standard. Government members support
the approach taken.
In addition to the recommendations already
supported, Government members believe that purchasers of mobile phones should
have information to allow them to make informed choices about personal
exposures resulting from their use of mobile phones. Government members
therefore support the labelling of mobile phones and information at point of
sale along similar lines to that recommended by the Stewart Report (see para
4.203 of this Report).
Senator John Tierney (Deputy Chair)
Senator for NSW
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